Because St. Louis Park and Edina share a border and much history, I asked my friend and colleague Jeanne Andersen, trustee with the St. Louis Park Historical Society, to contribute to our blog. Jeanne has created a website The Brookside Timeline, which will interest Brookside residents just over the border in Edina, and also maintains the St. Louis Park Historical Society website.
This is Highway 100 as it looks today in Google maps. You can drag the map in any direction to follow the route of the roadway into Edina.
The author Jeanne Anderson and her little sister Laurie taken in 1968 in their front yard, showing two of the doomed houses on the other side. Note there are no cars on the highway!
From age 4 to age 18, I lived with my family on Highway 100 in St. Louis Park, a block north of the border with Edina (which is just north of 44th Street). When my dad built our house in 1961, the road was two lanes each way; there was no wall, no fence, no median, and there were houses across the “street." We could cross at the stoplight at 41st Street at Brookside School, or take the crumbling stairs under 44th Street, but back then it was just as easy to simply run across. The speed limit was 45 and we often made left turns into our driveway. But it could be dangerous, and we often heard the squeal of tires followed by a big crash.
It sounds noisy and scary, but I loved the highway, and would sometimes sit in my front yard with my dog and wonder where all those people were going. Being interested in history, I also wondered where the road came from – was it an Indian path? Did early settlers build it?
I left St. Louis Park and eventually Minnesota for many years, but for some reason in the mid 1990s I became very interested in the topic again. The first place I went for information was to Frank Motzko, whose family of plumbers had lived a block north of us on the highway since the 1920s. I became immersed in the history of the Brookside neighborhood where I grew up, and my interest gradually grew to include the history of all of St. Louis Park. In 2002, Minnesota pulled me back, and now I live a mile away from my childhood home, where my father still lives.
Highway 100 as unpaved Aurora Avenue
I found that the history of Highway 100 in St. Louis Park actually came in two phases. The first phase was where my house was, between Excelsior Blvd. and Edina. The Brookside subdivision, on the west side, was platted in 1907 by Suburban Homes, which had bought the property from Calvin Goodrich. Suburban Homes advertised in the Minneapolis paper that it was a “creekside garden spot” as many parcels abutted Minnehaha Creek. The building of homes there was made feasible by the electric streetcar that ran down Motor Street (approximately 44th Street), allowing people to live in the suburbs and commute to work in the city. Some homes that were built that long ago still exist today. It was then that today's Highway 100 had the name of Aurora Avenue
In 1909, Browndale Park was platted on the east side of Aurora Avenue approved by the St. Louis Park Village Council with the proviso that Aurora be 30 feet wide instead of 20. The land had been the farm of Henry Brown, and it does not appear that houses were built on the east side of Aurora until after WWII. It looks like Aurora stopped at 44th Street; on the other side of the tracks was an Oddfellows Lodge, fruit orchards, and, in the early 1920s, the Country Club development.
Aurora is paved, renamed Vernon Avenue
Aurora was paved by the State for the first time in 1927. At right is a picture of Frank Motzko’s aunt standing in the graded road just before it was paved. The 1.77 mile cement road stretched from Excelsior Blvd. south to about present-day 50th Street, where it veered southwest along present-day Vernon Avenue to about where 53rd Street is today. It was three lanes wide: two lanes each way and a “suicide” turning lane in the middle, according to Frank Cardarelle, a surveyor and president of the Edina Historical Society.
I spoke to another man who was three years old and living on Aurora just south of Excelsior Blvd. when they were paving it and he remembered how his mother had to tether him to the house because he wanted to go out and play with the big trucks!
In 1933, St. Louis Park changed most of its street names, and Aurora became Vernon. It’s unclear what the Edina section was called, but at times it was Trunk Highway 5, Highway 169, and the Mankato Highway. Whether it was St. Louis Park or Edina that named it Vernon first, I don’t know, but it was part of an alphabetical sequence in the Park, if that’s a clue. 1933 was also the first year that St. Louis Park published a directory, and the map enclosed showed that section of Vernon also labeled as Highway 169. It would remain labeled so in directory maps until at least 1945, long after Highway 100 was built.
Depression project expands the "Beltway" with famed Lilac Way
The so-called second phase of Highway 100 was the “Beltway” that was built out of farmland in 1934-41 as a work program during the Great Depression. Dubbed “Lilac Way” because of the lilac trees and roadside parks that decorated it, the original section of the new highway stretched 12.5 miles from Robbinsdale to 78th Street in Edina, incorporating the older Aurora/Vernon/169 from Excelsior Blvd. to 50th Street.
The houses across from my parents’ were removed in 1968/69 and the highway, at least to 44th, was widened in 1972. Our Vernon Ave. became a service road, and my one attempt to climb the fence and run across the now freeway ripped my pants and scared me to death. Access to the highway from our house was now limited to Excelsior Blvd. or 50th Street. My dad could now pull out of his driveway without fearing for his life. A sound wall now blocks the view from the house and I miss the river of cars going who-knows-where. I love driving on it, especially when I get quizzical looks at my HIWY 100 license plates.
Edina stories: fact or fiction?
There are two stories I read or heard somewhere about the Edina stretch of Highway 100. One was that there were no roadside parks and it was not planted with lilacs or considered part of Lilac Way because of a spat between a village official and Carl Graeser, the idiosyncratic chief engineer of the Beltway. Another is that the unmarried Graeser mysteriously left all of his money to a woman from Edina when he died.
For more info
We have a ton of information about Highway 100 on our web site, at www.slphistory.org/history/highway100road.asp Additions or corrections are always appreciated; contact me by email if you have more information. Thanks to Frank Cardarelle for helping me read our 1926 highway department right-of-way map!
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Jennifer Adam is the Executive Director of the Edina Historical Society. She welcomes your contributions. Comment on a post or send an email (see below). Traditional mail, of course, can also be sent to:
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